News & Politics

Great Mothers and Good Mothers

Our children's future is bleak unless far more of us act now: There is no need for a conflict between being a good mother and being civically engaged.
Mothers today often say they are concerned about what's happening to America. But most feel they just can't afford the time or the childcare expense to "get involved." Some are afraid they will shortchange their kids somehow, by taking them along on neighborhood canvasses or to nonprofit or political group meetings. But I ask mothers today, "how can you afford not to get involved?"

The situation today for children and mothers in America is urgent. Asthma and autism rates in some places are up 400 percent from 20 years ago; one of every six American moms now have unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies; 200 species become extinct every day; our water, food, and air are now becoming more neurotoxic and carcinogenic instead of less for the first time since 1968; and more children fall into poverty and homelessness each year than ever since the great depression. Our children's future is bleak unless far more of us act now. Now more than ever is the time to get involved and get our children involved with us.

Getting our kids involved with us in political action develops their conscience and confidence in their own power to do good. I remember once when I had my six-year-old, Angela, the one who's a registered nurse now, and we were at this picket line at the Safeway, during the grape boycott. And here's this little kid standing in front of the store, passing out leaflets, telling people, "Don't shop here, because the grapes have poison on them." She was turning away more people than the adults!

In fact I would often take them out of school to do these things, because they learned more on the outside. They learned the way to become powerful was by organizing.

We mothers have to help make the world safer not only for our children, but for other people's children too. Because if all children are not safe, no child is safe. Our nation is making a disastrous mistake thinking we can have security from people: There is only security with people. Hate will always find a way around or under a "security system."

I know many mothers reading this are wondering how to get involved if they can't afford babysitters or are just overwhelmed. Yet so many mothers, like one or two of my own daughters, spend so much time driving kids to sports practice or work extra time to buy expensive things. These mothers could instead take time off from sports to volunteer on campaigns or at homeless shelters. When sports overtakes civic engagement, democracy dies. If your child was seriously ill, you would not think twice about giving up soccer. What is the difference between that and our child's society and planet being in critical condition? Political involvement is the medicine for curing a sick society and planet.

Some mothers who say they have not time to get involved are busy working long hours to buy things they don't really need. Why not work less, live more simply, so you can spend more time on activism and with family. If most mothers would only spend an hour or two a week doing activism, imagine the huge difference that would make to our nation and our children.

The tough truth is that using sports, schedule, or income as reasons not to get involved is a failure of responsibility and imagination. You've got to figure out ways to do it. Below are just six.

1) If the campaign/organization lacks childcare, help them organize it. On-site babysitters can be recruited from colleges or other parent volunteers.

2) Even if there is no childcare, your child can come with you to meetings, phone banks, etc. You can keep most kids occupied for a couple of hours with crayons, paper, books, play dough, and stories on CDs.

3) Ask moms who aren't actively engaged if they would watch your kids while you campaign. These mothers can then feel they're making a contribution. If there's ever a time to ask for help, it's now.

4) Lower your homemaking standards. I always used to say that for every bed I didn't make while organizing farmworkers, some poor farm worker got a $1/hour more.

5) If you're a single mother, find another mother with a kid your age or older, and your kids can keep busy together.

6) If you can't find childcare or bring your child(ren) with you, you can always use the internet and work from home e-mailing, or better yet faxing representatives, and e-mailing your friends ways to get them involved, or volunteering to help organizations as a researcher.

So there is no need for a conflict between being a good mother and being civically engaged. As a fellow activist mom once said, "How can you be a good mother today, and not be politically involved!" After all, it is for our children's safety, our number one responsibility as mothers, that we must stand up for human rights, health care, and environmental justice now, for everyone, and not just the privileged few. Indeed, I believe education's highest purpose is to teach our children what is and how to fight injustice. And if we parents don't teach them to be an activist for justice, who will? By "activist," I simply mean that you care about your family and your country enough to want to take action to insure your government is being used for your family's health, education, and safety, rather than to make the rich richer or to rob your tax dollars to pay for unnecessary wars based on lies, leaving the next generation in dire debt, more insecure than ever before in our history.

In other words, there are good mothers and there are great mothers. Great mothers are good mothers who, in addition, get involved with their kids to bring more health and justice into the world, not only for themselves, but for all families for generations to come.
Dolores Huerta is co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, mother of eleven children raised in poverty, partly as a single mom, President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation (www.Doloreshuerta.org), winner of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights and Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year awards, and listed by Ladies Home Journal as one of the 100 Most Influential Women in America.
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